So you’ve got this shelving unit which, before the advent of the e-reader, was affectionately referred to as your bookshelf. Your very own mini library stacked with all of your must-read paperbacks, hardly looked at textbooks from college, and stacks of CDs. Now look at it — a repository for your few remaining couldn’t-bear-to-part-with books, some from your childhood, a few mismatched photo frames, and a pile of magazines topped by yesterday’s unopened junk mail.
While most people do have some sort of book shelving in their home, either built-ins or freestanding, there’s a strange new pressure, in this digital age, about what to display on them. But, as I learned recently from savvy New York-based interior designer Sasha Berlin, bookshelves aren’t just for books anymore and they don’t need to be filled from wall to wall. If organized correctly they can be both functional and decorative; they can be used to display trinkets, art, and plants. The choices you make allow you to bring personality into your living room or bedroom.
To get it right, the arranging must be done with a careful eye. Too much tinkering can leave a room looking cluttered, messy, or oppressive if it’s filled with rows and rows of books.
Read on for expert tips on how to work those bookshelves to enhance your room’s style while letting your personal taste shine through.
Tip 1: Stack
Berlin suggests stacking large art and coffee table books horizontally from largest to smallest on top, while medium and small novels can be arranged vertically. “For variety, delineate between shelves that display only horizontal stacks, vertical stacks, and a mix,” she says. If you’re low on art and coffee table books, consider displaying your large cookbooks horizontally.
Tip 2: Add accents
In place of a bookend, Berlin suggests styling with a decorative accent such as a candle, ceramic piece, or a framed photo. Add natural elements such as coral, rock, crystal, and succulents to add warmth and texture to the overall appearance, or use a single shelf to showcase a collection without any books.
Tip 3: Get out the paintbrush
“Consider painting or wallpapering the inside of shelves for added interest,” says Berlin. This will not only spruce up old or tired wooden bookshelves, but it can also add a pop of color or pattern to a room without taking on the challenge of painting an entire wall.
Tip 4: Edit
Just because it’s a book and you own it doesn’t mean it has to live on your bookshelf forever. “Do not include worn paperback books, CDs or DVDs, magazines,” says Berlin. “Only display those items you want to highlight.” Also consider your colors, you may want to organize book spines by color which can make it easier on the eye, and then eliminate any books with jackets that seem out of place.
“Less is more,” says Berlin. “Leave some breathing room on each shelf so it does not appear cluttered.”